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Jesus the Great Physician
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Twice in his biographies Jesus referred to himself as a "physician" or "doctor," once in the sense of "spiritual healer" and once in the sense of "physical healer."
Jesus as Spiritual Healer: His opponents once attacked him for having unsavory characters such as tax collectors and "sinners" among his disciples. Jesus reminded them that "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)
Jesus as Physical Healer: When Jesus gave his first sermon in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, he anticipated the possessive nature of the crowd when he challenged them: "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" (Luke 4:23)

Jesusí role as "physician" and healer is so pervasive in his biographies and so essential to Jesusí mission that he cannot be understood apart from it. The crowds seemed instinctively to see Jesus as a "physician." Itís a title he clearly deserves. One has only to skim through the biographies of Jesus to note the remarkable attention he gave to healing. He was a physician, a healer whose time was consumed with encounters with people who were sick, blind, lame, deaf, leprous, paralyzed or mentally ill. Each of the biographies portrays Jesus in this way. (see Recorded Miracles of Jesus)

That there were medical practitioners in Palestine at the time of Jesus is clear from the narrative of the woman with the issue of blood who was said to have seen many doctors. (Mark 5:26) Likewise, Luke the biographer of Jesus was a physician. Unlike their work, Jesus' healing ministry would have been understood by first-century Palestinian Jews as miraculous: he was neither a trained physician nor a magician, but healed by divine power. It must be stressed that, different from all other known examples, Jesus healed all who were brought to him, not simply one or two individuals at different times. Jesus' ability to heal universally would certainly have commended him to the masses as an extraordinary individual.

It is important to note that the healing power from Jesus went beyond curing broken bones and ailing bodies. Sickness--and, therefore, healing--is not simply a biological or physical phenomenon. It touches every level of our existence as a human being: physical, emotional, social, spiritual.

Jesusí touch did more than send healing power into sick bodies. This physical contact also cut through barriers of isolation and was a sign of Jesusí compassion and solidarity with suffering people. When a leper approached Jesus asking to be healed, Jesus first touched him--an action that meant ritual impurity in Jewish Law. (Mark 1:40-45) It was an action of extraordinary compassion putting Jesus in vital contact with this human being forced by social custom and indeed legislation to live in isolation and misery. Leprosy in those times had the kind of symbolic dimension that AIDS has for many people today. Jesus broke down walls of alienation and centuries of prejudice by the simple but powerful gesture of reaching out and touching the body of the leper. Over and over again in the biography accounts, Jesus deliberately touched sick and disabled persons.

Jesus encouraged the active involvement of the sick in their own healing--faith was a necessary ingredient. "Faith," as expressed in the healing stories, entailed a strong trust in Godís healing power and the determination to gain access to it. Over and over, Jesus praised those he healed for their faith. (e.g. Mark 5:25-34) On the flip side, a lack of faith limited Jesus' healing in his hometown. (Matthew 13:53-58) Jesus never healed when asked to prove himself. He only healed when people expected or asked to be healed.

Jesus' healings were also used to support his claim to the promised Messiah. When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was "the one who was to come." Jesus responded: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." (Luke 7:18-23)

Adapted from Donald Senior, "Jesus the Physician: What the Gospels Say About Healing." Dr. Senior is President of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Barry D. Smith, "Jesus as Healer." Dr. Smith is a professor at Atlantic Baptist University, New Brunswick, Canada.


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